All change for ancient stations

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The Independent Online

Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport, is considering radical proposals to allow Network Rail to borrow billions of pounds to invest in upgrading its ageing railway stations. This could lead to upgrades for hundreds of Victorian stations, with new shops, concourses and car parking.

Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport, is considering radical proposals to allow Network Rail to borrow billions of pounds to invest in upgrading its ageing railway stations. This could lead to upgrades for hundreds of Victorian stations, with new shops, concourses and car parking.

Under the plans, the state-backed company would be able to tap into the bond market to fund the works. The bonds would be secured against future revenue streams from the stations, including an increase in the access payments which Network Rail charges the train- operating companies.

It is understood that Iain Coucher, Network Rail's deputy chief executive, discussed the idea with Dr Mike Mitchell, the new Department for Transport director-general of railways, last month.

Network Rail is under pressure from the train operators to invest in its stations. The operators believe that the out-of-date facilities are keeping a lid on passenger growth.

Charles Belcher, Virgin Trains' West Coast managing director, said: "When we look at the stations, they are past their best. They look shabby - many last received significant investment in the late Sixties and early Seventies."

He highlighted stations like Crewe (pictured on page one) as in need of urgent investment.

However, Virgin Trains believes that it is better placed to invest in 17 stations on the West Coast than Network Rail. It estimates that it can raise £150m by securing bank debt against future revenues over a 30-year period, in particular from extra parking spaces.

A spokesman for the DfT confirmed that it had held discussions with Network Rail and Virgin Trains.

However, he cast doubt over Virgin Trains' proposals, saying: "We are reluctant to guarantee borrowing to train-operating companies beyond the life of their franchise."

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